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Tongue Twisters: Spoonerisms and Freudian Slips

spoonerisms3The mind and the tongue don’t always agree to co-operate with each other. In fact, your brain and mouth often don’t agree and this makes for a fascinating area of study. On the more serious end of things you have speech disorders like stammers, or brain traumas such as strokes affecting the communication between your mind and mouth. At the other end of the scale though, we have lighter, less significant and often funny slip-ups that come from jumbling our words up in a moment of inattentiveness or confusion. Some of my favourite verbal mistakes, which you may not have heard of, are spoonerisms.

Spoonerisms involve the accidental, or sometimes deliberate, mix up of parts of words, so that they still form a full phrase, for example: the Lord is a shoving leopard (the Lord is a loving shepherd). They’re named after the Revered William Archibald Spooner, who was Warden at Oxford University’s New College and notorious for mixing up his words. Many of the quotes attributed to him probably aren’t actually things he’s said, but made up by colleagues and students to make fun of him. Poor Reverend Spooner.

My favourite of these, even if Spooner himself didn’t actually say it, has to be “three cheers for our queer old dean” (dear old queen), as I like anything that makes the royal family look a bit silly (not that they need help with that). If that one’s too short for you, I also love “You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted a whole worm. Please leave Oxford on the next town drain.” (You have missed all my history lectures. You have wasted a whole term. Please leave Oxford on the next down train.)

spoonerisms2A word cousin to muddles like spoonerisms is the Freudian slip. Like spoonerisms, they involve accidentally mixing up your words, but Freudian slips are seen as being a little less accidental. They’re supposedly a voicing of your unconscious, the thoughts that you’re suppressing or holding back. In other words, a Freudian slip is meant to reveal what you’re really thinking. These are also named after someone, Sigmund Freud, the famous neurologist whose theory of psychoanalysis relies heavily on the unconscious. He’s largely seen as being quite wrong in medicine today, but his theories are great for reading Edgar Allen Poe.

There’s nothing that says a Freudian slip has to be sexual, but they are undoubtedly funnier when they are. Since so much of Freud’s theories involved who was really thinking about having sex with whom, it’s only right that the best Freudian slips are clumsy fumbles into sexual territory in completely unrelated situations. Of course, they’re even funnier when they come from the mouths of politicians, because there’s no one we like to see make an idiot out of themselves more than a politician. Here are some great ones from US political figures.

Ted Kennedy: “Our national interest ought to be to encourage the breast and the brightest.”

Hilary Clinton: “…tried to pay off their mortgage, which for many first time homeboners…”

George H. W. Bush: “…we’ve made some mistakes, we’ve made some sex – set-backs…”

Do you have any funny stories involving slips of the tongue?